Julian Fellowes has written an American version of Downton Abbey for HBO, so we’re recapping this first season of The Gilded Age! Starting in 1882, the story promises to be a juicy soap opera of new money vs. old with lots of bustle gowns. Check here on Tuesdays for our recap of the previous week’s episode.
By this point in The Gilded Age (2022-), all the characters are wearing lots of repeated costumes, so I’m ignoring those unless I can get better screencaps or I’ve found historical references for them, FYI. For example, the episode starts with George revealing his big station project, and the Russell fam is present, all in repeated costumes. Larry wants to study architecture instead of the family biz. They’re also talking about electricity, whoo-hoo.
Agnes believes her son is having an affair with the Russell’s lady maid. Ada thinks it’s NBD, just a fling. Little do they both know he doesn’t play that way at all.
It’s hard to say Agnes is wearing old-fashioned styles when this show is all over the map. This bustle shape could be 1875 or 1885, because between those two parts of the era, the skirts were much slimmer.
Larry and Marian have another meet-cute. I like how she’s wearing green more often — is this symbolizing “growth”? That feels a bit obvious. However, she’s in a too fashion-forward style, leaning 1890s here.
That black waist reminds me of:
Carrie Astor comes over to scope out where to practice for dancing. It’s the return of the skin disease / ball fringe dress in all its hideous glory! And Gladys has yet another lavender gown — I think she wore this one at that charity bazaar, so both girls are wearing repeated outfits from episode 2.
That nasty dress on Carrie is a historical repro. Because people in the past made fugly shit just as often as modern folks! Although this TV show reversed the colors, perhaps to make the ball fringe look less disease-y? Whelp, that didn’t work.
Bertha shows up and suggests Gladys will actually get a debutante ball. I bet that will be the final episode’s set piece. She’s wearing a new gown, and finally something that looks daytime-appropriate. Or is it?
Agnes has confronted her son about his supposed affair, and she tells Marian to get the maid fired with Mrs. Russell.
Over at the Russell house, George came in late for dinner because the lawyers are debating if he’s innocent in last episode’s train wreck.
Peggy has more articles for the newspaper (but not a new costume, so no screencap), and she gets an assignment to write about electricity — including the Black man, Lewis Latimer, who invented the more durable light bulb filament later used by Thomas Edison.
On her own assignment from her aunt, Marian awkwardly meets with Mrs. Russell.
She has a less awkward but more boring convo with Mr. Raikes, who’s still stalking her.
Oscar and Marian have a chat as well. I don’t know how / when / why she’s changed clothes though — the other action is all happening on the same day, plus she’s fussing with her gloves and purse like she’s either coming in or going out. Why would she change from one daytime outfit (the red satin) to another very similar daytime outfit (this burgundy satin), both for going out? I suspect a continuity lapse on the part of the showrunners.
Bertha overhears her maid getting chatty with Larry Russell, decides the rumor is true, and dismisses her. Agnes learns of this via letter, and asks Peggy to respond cooly.
Reminiscent of this photo — similar style of gown and the use of plaid, especially the trim along the front sides, is very similar.
Marian and Mr. Raikes meet at Mrs. Chamberlain’s house. The two of them have so little chemistry that their being passionately in love seems silly and pointless.
Marian’s green dotted dress is, again, 1890s and the same style as this photo:
The fired maid complains to Oscar, and she’s wearing a nice 1880s natural form dress so I’ll include a picture.
Agnes is getting fitted for a new gown, and the dressmaker says, “bustles are getting smaller for most people.” Agnes says, “I’m not most people.” Need I remind everyone that this is supposedly 1882 and bustles should have been small for several years already? And most people in this show are not wearing the smaller natural-form style with any regularity, for that matter.
I think Agnes’ bustle is this long coil type. Even if it’s not this structure, the size isn’t huge.
The aunts, well, Agnes, grill Marian about Mr. Raikes.
Peggy is going out to see the electrical thing and has a spiffy new dress in pink and brown.
The Russells are going out to the electrical thing.
Ada thinks electricity is neat, Agnes is unimpressed, Marian is pouting about not getting to see it.
But it’s a version of this dress worn by First Lady Frances Cleveland.
Light ‘er up! It’s a party in the streets and carriages. The randomly invited Miss Bingham gets her flirt on with Mr. Raikes — looks like Aurora Fane brought her on purpose to distract the guy from Marian (maybe at Aunt Agnes’ instruction?).
What did you love and hate about this episode’s costumes?
I like Marian’s hat, but I don’t think it’s the right style for the period. It almost feels like it’s from the late 18th or early 19th century.
Their take on the scheming maid Turner is really disappointing, it’s like a failed version of o’brien. Her night scenes with george russell are ludicrous
Turner is so cartoonishly scheming it’s ridiculous, and her motivations don’t even make a great deal of sense to me. I feel like in reality a lady’s maid would be aware that the Russells had (as the show implies) a pretty active sex life, and would also be aware of the precarity of her situation if she were to be turned away without references, so the bizarre conversations where she tries to convince an unimpressed Mr. Russell to (I guess?) set her up as his mistress so that she can provide him with domestic bliss seem very strange and unlikely to lead to much benefit for her. Fellowes’ last “seductive maid who’s trying to better her station and gets punished for it” (a plot I despised) on Downton Abbey was at least very young and naive, but I think we’re meant to believe Turner is very cunning and experienced? I don’t understand the writing of her character at all. Also, Carrie Astor’s terrible dress remains terrible!
I just cannot feel the love for this series, nor the era. I think the 1880s were about the most hideous fashions known to western civilization. There were better dyes, hence better colors, but the bustle silhouette only works well on very slim, tall women. Not my fave.
Lewis Latimer was an impressively accomplished man, interested in the arts as well as technology, but it’s questionable that he was in New York City in 1882.
If only the blue trimming on Carrie’s dress wasn’t ball fringe!
Why is practically everything Marian wears so ugly? Does her dressmaker hate her? Or does the costume department?
Does anyone else think Gladys Russell is basically going to be Consuelo Vanderbilt in this series? Married off to an aristocrat and very Unhappy?
They seem to be setting her up with the Van Rijns ‘ gay son. That should turn out well for her!
Or does the costume department wish they were dressing her mom or her sister? Or maybe she needs to take her adorable dog to her dressers for fittings and maybe better clothes?
IMHO it’s so pleathery it has to be pleather. Yuck.
Wonder if Mr Latimer is going to be a romantic interest for Peggy?
I can only hope!
Loved this. Check out @cengel199 on TikTok. She posts and describes a different historical dress everyday.
If that is pleather, the poor actress must have been sweat incarnate.
Oh this show! So frustrating.
They do cool stuff like, on Agnes’ gown… which is a lov-er-ly 1875 silhouette… notice the buttons slightly off CF. This is completely period. BUT the buttonholes should come almost to the edge of the CF opening. They’re too far back, but y’know… the cutter gets points for trying.
Carrie’s nasty dress is an example of getting the details wrong with disastrous results. The color scheme is dreadful. In the fashion plate it much more subtle and the spotty bits look more like a silk brocade or print than 3-D bubble plastic like lace. The skirts look OK but the bodice of the fashion plate makes sense. It criss-crosses in front and cuts away from about the bust point. The costume bodice makes no sense and the extra ruffles don’t help. I bet it closes up the back.
OK… I’ll stop complaining…
I think the original fashion plate looks diseased too! It’s a typically over-designed 1880s dress – enough was never enough.
I dunno why wordpress never logs me in here anymore.
I feel like all these costumes are just “costumes.” Not something a real person could “live in.” I don’t know what bothers me about them, or seems unconvincing, but I just think they are gaudy and fake-looking.
Yes. I get that sometimes the gals would go crazy and wear something over the top to a fancy event, but some of these are so, so garish and ornate I can’t imagine anyone wearing them as day to day wear.
Even Peggy with what I guess is a very correct professional wardrobe is over the top. That red and plaid number may be period, but the color story seems way too splashy (vermillion and contrasting plaid?) for Peggy who seems to be quite ‘sensible’ and businesslike.
Bertha, of course, is meant to be shown as a tasteless arriviste.
Oddly, the only one who seems to be wearing exquisitely made dresses that are designed for basically what one wears around the house (as long as one doesn’t have to cook or clean anything) is Ada.
If you look at fashion plates from the 1880s, there’s a TON of color, including really wild color combos. Remember, aniline dyes were invented in the 1850s, so they were NBD by this period. And extant clothing can appear dull / darker because those early dyes could be unstable.
Hi Trystan!!! I get that these eye-searing color combinations were available, I just opine sendentiously on whether some of the characters would select clothing like that, based upon what see of their personalities. Although I came of age in the late 80’s/early 90’s, I just could never muster the fortitude to wear some of the more ‘of the moment’ styles that my more adventurous friends did, for example. The clothing should seem liek soemthing tehe people would actually wear. I cite Peggy as an example – that red and plaid number just seems a little too eye-catching for her in her status as a working woman of color, as a secretary to a starchy Olde Society Matron, no less, especially when we see she’s pragmatic, driven, realistic and trying to break into a male dominated field like journalism.
And yes, this era in fashion produced some real lulus of frills and ruffles and bustles and rick-rack but some of it just so impractical. Would the Excellent Mrs. Chamberlain really to dress so dramatically AND UNCOMFORTABLY when she is pretty much expected to be at home and entertain privately? No extremely high end version of a cute skirt and a twin set?
Notice who wears the brightest / wildest color combos — Bertha always, sometimes Chamberlain, sometimes Marian, sometimes Gladys, sometimes Carrie, sometimes Peggy. Never Agnes or Ada or Aurora. It’s the new money & younger women, not the old money crowd. Also “practicality” or “comfort” in dress doesn’t matter in general & especially to those who have money; that’s a very modern idea. Only servants have to worry about “practicality,” & nobody except dress reform advocates (aka extremists!) think about comfort.
Being able to walk and run, bend and raise one’s arms over one’s head and breath deeply in one’s clothes are very modern ideas.
Charlotte posts the real thing each day, @cengel199 as part of the wedding dress exhibit she’s working on.
Agnes is getting fitted for a new gown, and the dressmaker says, “bustles are getting smaller for most people.” Agnes says, “I’m not most people.”
^ That statement gives me chills. Not only are the bustle sizes all over the place as you say, but I worry that this is them laying the groundwork for them to forego the huge shelf like bustles that should be coming in from 1884. I feel like a lot of period dramas set in the 1880s just decide not to do them because they’re “ugly” to the modern eye but I hate that. It’s the same thing when people who make regency era pieces decide that nobody can wear a bonnet. Just do the thing! Yes it looks weird to us that’s the point! That’s why I watch costume dramas. I want to see all the bizarre (to us) stuff they wore!